Bill Barlow and his Beautiful Addiction
Recently I asked Mr. Barlow what he is collecting today and true to form he is leaning into the future collecting in many ways many things. He continues to pursue Baskerville imprints in the traditional way: through dealers who know the material only half as well as he but know he is a motivated buyer. He also collects stamps and the more esoteric substrata - machine cancels. On eBay he collects Duncan Hines, the salesman turned food critic, who through his books became an authority on quality food. Mr. Hines published four categories of books, each distinguishable by their colors -- red, blue, green and yellow to the cognoscenti and Adventures in Good Eating [restaurants], Lodging for a Night [accomodations], Vacation Guide [Good Places to Spend an Enjoyable Vacation] and Adventures in Good Cooking [cookbooks] to the uninitiated. It is the perfect eBay project --material widely distributed that bubbles to the surface every day. As we speak there are 264 Duncan Hines lots available. No doubt Mr. Barlow knows this material better than Duncan did.
He also collects the post cards of restaurants whose post card mug shots are part of the collecting world of Duncan Hines. He has a meaningful collection of the 10,000 or so issued between 1936 and 1962. He also acquires the printed menus of these restaurants and their "top marked" china when he finds it.
In support of his Baskerville collection he has collected book auction catalogues. He has about 30,000, his American sales very complete back to 1900 and reasonably complete from there to 1850. He uses them to track appearances, the denier of his collecting twill apparent in these numbers and approach.
He has also collected honors. In 1989 he received the Thomas More Medal for Book Collecting and in 2004 the Hubert Howe Bancroft Award. He is currently president of the Machine Cancel Society, honorary consultant to the American Antiquarian Society, past Council member of the Grolier Club and past president of the Bibliographical Society of America and the Book Club of California. During summers he teaches at the Rare Book School.
He tells the story of tracking down Hines signs to a place back east where they all were sent to die, each of them leased, not owned by restaurants and always required to be returned. They are today the rarissima of this particular obsession so if Mr. Barlow disappears for a few days to points unknown the chances are good he's discovered these dinosaur bones in some old warehouse and, hard hat on tight, is stepping through debris, brushing away dirt hoping to be able to then say "Yes, I think that's one. I'd like to buy it."
In San Francisco it's now 2:00 pm and the postman and UPS drivers have come and gone. A few packages, the day's arrivals, wait quietly their cues to trundle into view. For a few moments they are the prize, the day's communion wafers of postcards, menus, stamps, cancels and books. For tomorrow to be blessed these delivery men must again return and chances are they will.